Friday marks the 15th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Steelers Divisional Round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome. What a wild game that was and it ended with the Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger outdueling Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Why do I bring that game up? Because the Colts quarterbacks coach at the time was none other than Jim Caldwell, longtime friend of Steelers current head coach Mike Tomlin. With that a known fact and with the Steelers now looking for another offensive coordinator after choosing not to renew the contract of Randy Fichtner on Thursday, Caldwell is now very likely to be on Tomlin’s short list of candidates to be the next director of the Steelers offense.
Before I move forward on Caldwell, it’s important to note that he has been out of NFL coaching circles since early 2019 when he had to take an indefinite leave of absence from the Miami Dolphins due to an undisclosed health issue. While he never returned to the Dolphins, Caldwell has let be known recently that he’s back healthy again and ready to resume his coaching career.
Caldwell and Tomlin go way back together as the two were together on the coaching staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001. At that time, Caldwell was the Buccaneers quarterbacks coach while Tomlin was the team’s defensive backs coach under then-Tampa Bay head coach, Tony Dungy.
Fast forward now to 2012 and the Steelers search for a new offensive coordinator after it was announced that Bruce Arians was “retiring”. While Todd Haley ultimately got the job, he and Caldwell were the only two candidates that Tomlin brought to Pittsburgh to interview for the position. We know that because Steelers team president Art Rooney II said as much during an interview to address whether or not he was the one that hand-picked Haley over Caldwell instead of letting the team’s head coach make the final decision.
“Mike identified a number of candidates that he wanted to talk to and did all of the initial discussions,” Rooney said at the time, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We talked about who he was talking to. Kevin [Colbert] and I talked to him, and he sort of kept us in the loop as to who he was thinking about.
“Then he decided who he wanted to bring in for a follow-up interview into Pittsburgh. I did talk to the guys who came into Pittsburgh. I’m not even sure I’d call it an interview, but I had a conversation with them.
“I wouldn’t want my role in it to be overestimated because Mike has to decide who he wants on the staff. Even though there’s always a discussion between me and Mike about who he’s hiring and how much we’re paying him and those kinds of things, it’s normally a discussion of the business side of the arrangement than, ‘Are we going to hire a guy who’s going to run the ball so many times a game.’ It was a fairly normal process as far as I’m concerned in terms of how we’ve done those kinds of hirings in the past.”
So, Haley got the offensive coordinator job over Caldwell and we’ll likely never know exactly why. Caldwell then went on to get hired by the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 to be the team’s quarterbacks coach and ultimately their fulltime offensive coordinator in 2013. The Ravens, by the way, won the Super Bowl in Caldwell’s first season on the staff. In 2014, Caldwell became the head coach of the Detroit Lions.
In 2016, the Lions came to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe for a joint practice with the Steelers. Predictably, Tomlin was asked during a press conference at that time to share some of the recollections he had of Caldwell from the time they were together in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers.
“Steady Eddie,” Tomlin said of Caldwell. “Jim Caldwell is Steady Eddie. I tend to be more up and down emotionally, and I appreciated that about him. I was a very young guy when we worked together and have obviously know of Coach Caldwell. He had been a longtime college head football coach at Wake Forest at that time, so I really enjoyed learning a lot from him.
“I know that he and his family were helpful to my wife and I. We were very new parents at the time and his wife did a great job of schooling my wife on parenting and we appreciated it.”
Tomlin was then asked to disclose how his relationship has grown with Caldwell over the years since the two were together in Tampa Bay.
“In a very natural way,” said Tomlin. “We’ve been friends now for 15 years and I appreciate him. It’s always been a relationship that’s valued by me.”
Caldwell’s tenure as the Lions head coach ended after the 2017 season. Since then, he has been a head coach candidate of the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and the Cleveland Browns, but obviously failed to land a job with any of them.
Caldwell was hired by Dolphins head coach Brian Flores in February of 2019 to be the team’s assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. However, on July 13, 2019 it was announced that Caldwell would take a leave of absence to address health issues, but that he would remain as a consultant. Following the 2019 season, Caldwell wasn’t retained by the Dolphins.
Caldwell has worked with quite a few notable quarterbacks over the years and that list includes Brad Johnson, Manning, Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford. In short, he knows how to handle veteran quarterbacks. Could Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger be next on Caldwell’s list of veteran quarterbacks he’s coached and coordinated? It’s quite possible.
On the heels of the Steelers 2020 collapse, Tomlin’s seat has probably gotten a lot warmer this past week. With that, it’s hard to imagine him now taking the offensive keys away from Fichtner and giving them to a green and unproven coordinator. After all, time is not on the side of Tomlin right now and the same goes for Roethlisberger if the veteran quarterback wants to return in 2021 and if the team wants him back for one last run.
Following the Steelers coaching staff shakeup on Thursday, the offensive side of the football now includes quarterbacks coach Matt Canada, running backs coach Eddie Faulkner, wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard and two position assistants, Adrian Klemm and Blaine Stewart. Of those five offensive coaches, only Hilliard has more than three years of NFL coaching experience. In short, it’s not out of the question that Tomlin will tab an offensive coordinator with a lot of NFL experience as the one to succeed Fichtner. The same goes for his offensive line coach selection as well and even if Roethlisberger doesn’t return in 2021.
In closing, Tomlin’s next offensive coordinator could very well be his last as head coach of the Steelers and that’s why there’s a decent chance he chooses a veteran Steady Eddie-type such as Caldwell and roughly nine years after not hiring him for the same position in 2012.